Swimming & Diving: Canal Winchester Indians, Groveport Cruisers embrace long-awaited starts

Dave Purpura
ThisWeek group

Shortly before noon Jan. 23, Regan Wildermuth took her place on the blocks at the Westerville Community Center pool for the first leg of the Canal Winchester girls swimming team’s 200-yard medley relay.

On that day, however, Wildermuth’s role was more significant.

At precisely noon, the senior became the first Indian this season to enter the water during an official competition, almost seven weeks after the team’s scheduled opener and just 21 days before the postseason is set to begin.

Rounded out by Merideth McFarland, Megan Richey and Grace Terflinger, the relay finished fourth in 2 minutes, 37.98 seconds behind three Westerville South teams, but that was a secondary concern.

Canal Winchester coach Shawn Elizondo, top, talks with Jillian King, left, Maddison Chandavong, Baylee Tyler, Kaylor Byrd, Kierra Martin, Regan Wildermuth and Isabella Byrd on Jan. 23 before a meet at the Westerville Community Center. The meet was the Indians' first of the season, coming almost seven weeks after the scheduled opener.

“I didn’t think we’d have a meet. I might not have been as prepared as I normally would be, but I was still trying to push myself,” Wildermuth said. “I was nervous for this because I’m not in my usual shape and afraid I wasn’t going to do well, but it’s the first meet of the season. We all just wanted to have fun.”

Because it is a club team, Canal Winchester swimmers do not practice together and the team must settle for any chance to have meets, especially this year when recreation centers have limited attendance and available pool time amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

The scheduled opener Dec. 1 against Grove City at the Grove City YMCA was canceled when the OCC suspended competition until Dec. 18 in conjunction with Franklin County’s stay-at-home advisory.

Coach Shawn Elizondo had not seen most of his swimmers compete until Jan. 23. The only exceptions were his son, Lucas, Zane Fenn, Richey and Lauren Stone, with whom he works through the Hydra Aquatics club team.

Otherwise, communication was limited to emails and texts.

“If you have a pool, you’ll swim against other teams who have pools and if you don’t, you’re a team like us or Groveport who can’t get meets because we don’t have pools or money. We have kids who train all year and swim club meets but we can’t get (high school meets),” Elizondo said. “You coach kids in high school to give them a fair opportunity to compete and it hasn’t been fair.”

A varsity team, Groveport Madison’s practices are limited to one hour each weeknight at the Groveport Recreation Center, but only after the facility closes at 8 p.m.

The Cruisers and Indians swam dual meets on consecutive days Jan. 29-30 at Jefferson Country Club. Both are scheduled to participate in a Division I sectional Feb. 13 at Upper Arlington.

“This season has been extremely difficult to keep the athletes motivated but with the prospect of upcoming meets, it has been easier,” Groveport coach Ilana Webber said. “I am not sure if they can concentrate on the postseason since they haven’t had a season (until last week), but we are trying to keep them in the moment.”

Cruisers senior Jazlyn Winski admitted having a tough time not only motivating herself with no meets in sight but also gauging individual progress. The season opener was her first meet since district Feb. 13, 2020.

“It felt like I was going to practice just to swim, not to get better,” Winski said. “I was unsure where I stood in the 100 breaststroke (her primary event). Once we got a meet, now I feel like I’m swimming toward something. All of us are just ready to get back and compete again.”

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave